Being neighborly good step for Heritage
By Marcus Fitzsimmons | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Introductions probably aren’t in order.
But it has been a while since these neighbors have seen each other out on the football field.
Dubya was running for reelection the last time Heritage and Alcoa met on the gridiron in the year of the Lord, 2004.
There’s no real need to dwell on the past and who called it quits and why, low those many nine years ago. It might spoil the fresh luster of renewing the rivalry and some of the county spirit that’s permeated out from the contracts being signed to make it official this week.
Suffice it to say, that Alcoa really needed a game that didn’t involve someone chartering a bus trip halfway across the state. After the TSSAA granted Loudon an escape clause from District 4-AA, it left the three remaining big dogs — Alcoa, Christian Academy of Knoxville and new arrival Catholic, which conveniently moved down as Stone Memorial moved up — in a scheduling lurch.
These guys already have enough issues getting enough non district contests to fill a 10-game schedule thanks to the ever looming shadow cast by the TSSAA playoff calculus. Having one of the guaranteed district games yanked away in the 11th hour certainly cut the size of Alcoa’s Christmas card list to say the least.
But as many names as the Tornadoes might have added to their in-house Naughty List over that, one that certainly got a star beside it on the Nice side of the ledger is Heritage.
A Class 6A team has little reason to schedule a 3A opponent these days. A win doesn’t really help you in the playoff wildcard race and a loss is the death knell if you’re on the TSSAA bubble. If it’s Alcoa calling — and you’ve got every reason to know that their roster is full of enough young talent to remain one of the state’s elite teams the next two seasons — then strategery says you let that one just go to voicemail.
But that wasn’t the case.
Heritage may have had multiple reasons to continue to keep Alcoa off the schedule but it didn’t.
After nine years apart, the Mountaineers scheduled meetings 29 and 30 in the old rivalry and set up a revenue-sharing arrangement of the gate comparable to the one the Tornadoes currently have in-place with Maryville. That’s a win-win for the small school likely to be hitting the road a lot next season and for the big school rebuilding from the foundation up.
And that process may be at the heart of the matter for the Mountaineers.
Despite the effort of some players over the last nine years, Heritage’s rebuilding program has taken on the dimensions and duration of a bypass around Atlanta with a similar lack of results. Things seem to be changing with Tim Hammontree as the contractor, it’s a philosophical 180 for the program in the state’s toughest district across all sports to schedule a nondistrict powerhouse rather than search for a likely win.
It’s an attitude creeping down from the college ranks and making a lot of headway in this state because of the emphasis on things like the victories over teams winning 50 percent or more of their games for teams in same class — which is criteria No. 8 in the playoff formula.
To see Heritage football take the attitude, we won’t be the best until we beat the best, is a step forward for the Mountaineers, who didn’t move forward in the short or long term when they started scheduling down.
Heritage didn’t just pick up the phone when Alcoa called, the Mountaineers accepted the challenge. Successful teams do that. They prove themselves as such not by gaming the system to make the postseason but by having the confidence to play anyone anywhere so that they’re winning once they do make the playoffs.
The Mountaineers are making the right step just by playing ball with the guy next door.
Marcus Fitzsimmons is sports editor at The Daily Times, who enjoys reading comments posted to this column at http://thedailytimes.com